How Christians Misunderstand Socialism, Communism, Tithing, and God’s Economy


Mention the word socialism to people and you’re likely to conjure images of Soviet tanks in Red Square, stern men with spider-veined noses, and the hammer & sickle.

Or some folks might think 2015’s first Democratic debate, when several Commander-in-Chief-wannabes fell all over each other to promise the most free stuff to the most people.

Or some might talk about a Scandinavian country or two, and how those countries seem to do a better job taking care of people at all stages of life than we do in the U.S. Canada’s or England’s “socialized medicine” may get a mention.

A few Christians may even recollect Gog & Magog, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, and Armageddon.

Whatever the case, a quick perusal of social (not socialist) media reveals the always inevitable divisions, as Americans line up either to fight socialism tooth-and-nail or to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Perhaps stating what socialism actually is might help focus the discussion. From Merriam Webster:

1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

As the definition states, a line of demarcation exists between communism and socialism, with socialism a stop on the way to full-fledged communism. Merriam Webster again:

1 a: a theory advocating elimination of private property
b: a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
2 capitalized
a: a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
b: a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
c: a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably
d: communist systems collectively

I think these two definitions provide a foundation to talk about what socialism is and isn’t.

Now, because this is a Christian blog that aspires to make sense of modern American Christian living in light of the 1st century Church, I’ll throw into this mix two passages from the Bible:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:41-47 ESV

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:32-35 ESV

I believe it is important for us to place these verses in the context of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit first fell on the new Church in power. What were the actions of people newly filled by the Spirit of God?

  • Devoting themselves to receiving teaching
  • Devoting themselves to fellowship and to one another
  • Sharing meals together
  • Praying
  • Manifesting signs and wonders
  • Showing awe for God’s working
  • Practicing unity by holding all things in common
  • Selling possessions and land and distributing the proceeds to those among them who were needy
  • Ensuring none among them was needy
  • Redistributing goods and properties
  • Rejecting claims of personal ownership
  • Meeting together in the temple and in each others’ homes
  • Displaying gladness, generosity, and praise to God
  • Testifying to the resurrection of Jesus

Would you not agree that all these are evidence of a changed way of thinking and living due to being filled with the Spirit? They were practices and beliefs that set apart Christians from the rest of the society of their time. They are the distinctives of Christian life, belief, and practice made manifest immediately after the individuals who make up the Church were filled by the Holy Spirit.

You hear the term DNA tossed around a lot in both the corporate world and American churches. But do we believe that the list above constitutes part of the DNA of the Church?

No, I don’t believe we do.

It never fails that quoting these two passages from Acts raises more ire in supposed born-again Christians than almost anything I can quote from the New Testament.

Actually, let me qualify that: They raise the ire of American Christians. I’m not so sure they would trouble those who live outside North America or who cannot be considered part of the West.

The trouble items in the list:

  • Practicing unity by holding all things in common
  • Selling possessions and property and distributing the proceeds to those among them who were needy
  • Ensuring none among them was needy
  • Redistributing goods and properties
  • Rejecting claims of personal ownership

Some Christians bristle at the thought of socialism coming to America. Other Christians think the Church needs to be more socialistic or at least support government programs that reflect socialistic ways of thinking and acting.

The catch: According to the definitions from Merriam Webster, the economy the early Church practices in Acts wasn’t what we commonly think. In fact, it wasn’t socialism at all but—wait for it—communism (see the definition 1b).

Does that make anyone out there squirm?

Here’s another problem for those who have some issues with this new New Testament way of thinking about God’s economy: The Old Testament undergirds it.

And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel. “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die…”
—Numbers 18:20-22 ESV

In the Old Covenant, the inheritance of the Levites, the tribe called by God to be His priests, was a portion of the bounty of those who were not in the priesthood. We call that a tithe, usually considered to be 10 percent, and it was what was expected to be received by the priesthood.

We know that the New Covenant Jesus established replaced the inadequate Old Covenant. Did that mean that Jesus did away with the priesthood?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
—1 Peter 2:9 ESV

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
—Revelation 1:4-6 ESV

Who is the priesthood in the New Testament? Everyone who is born again in Jesus. In other words, every person who comprises the Church.

And how do we see that priesthood operating in Acts? By tithes? By capitalism? By private ownership?

About that latter one:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20 ESV

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
—Colossians 3:3-6 ESV

What happens to the legal rights of the dead? To their property? What do they still own? Or can call their own?

Let’s run that list through one more time of the distinguishing practices of the Spirit-filled Church:

  • Practicing unity by holding all things in common
  • Selling possessions and property and distributing the proceeds to those among them who were needy
  • Ensuring none among them was needy
  • Redistributing goods and properties
  • Rejecting claims of personal ownership

I hear a lot of talk about Acts 2 and 4 being descriptive and not prescriptive. But when you consider that the Spirit-filled Church understood itself to be a priesthood in which every person functioned as a priest, and that each person had been united to Christ in His death and could no longer lay claim to the things the living expect, it all begins to come together and make sense. We can see why the Church lived out that list.

Love givenWhat we see is a new economy. God’s New Testament economy. The economy of a Spirit-filled Church. We, a royal priesthood, are no longer our own; we were bought with a price. That changes everything.

Because of Jesus, we don’t just give up part of ourselves, but we give up everything to be dead to the world and alive in Him.

Jesus is our inheritance as a priesthood. Nothing is ours in the world but Him. It’s all His, even us. Therefore, everything we are in Him is always to be available, especially to our fellow priests, who are His and in Him as well.

The problem for us American Christians is that we are Americans first and Christians second when it comes to issues of God’s New Testament economy. We don’t want to give up the idea of that thing over there being mine or that property belonging to me. We don’t want to hold things in common or give more than 10 percent, even though Jesus owns us and has made us His new priesthood.

Instead, we go off on tangents. We bristle at the idea that the government should forcibly take away our stuff and give it to someone else. Yet at the same time, we—as the Church—can’t be bothered to give up our stuff in the name of Jesus either, even if that stuff is going to a fellow Christian who needs it more than we do. Heck, we’re not even sure we should share it.

The American Dream clouds almost everything God wants us to think about how His New Testament economy works. Our hatred for Soviet-style Communism or Scandinavian quasi-Socialism obscures the rest. (See “American Civil Religion vs. True Christianity” for more.)

The result? We don’t really live the way the Bible shows how people filled with the Spirit are supposed to live when it comes to our stuff. Nor do we want to.

We won’t even consider it.

Which is sad, because I fear I wasted my time writing this.

So we Christians in America will go on debating whether the United States is threatened by socialism or communism or some other anti-Americanism -ism while God holds out His hands all day, every day, to a stiff-necked people who just can’t bring themselves to live the countercultural way He has purchased for us. Meanwhile, the lost of today sit waiting for someone, anyone, to heed the call to model for them the reality of the Kingdom of God.

American Civil Religion vs. True Christianity


In my previous post, “The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying,” I began to explore differences that exist between true Christian faith and the mishmash we often practice in America. A fancy word for this melange exists, syncretism, which is the blending of two different ideas or practices into one. Often those ideas or practices are contradictory, yet the practitioner cannot recognize the inherent contradictions.

Nowhere is this syncretism more apparent than in America. The narrative of our country and the narrative of the Kingdom of God have syncretized so profoundly that the religion far too many self-proclaimed Christians in America practice isn’t true Christianity at all but something I like to call American Civil Religion.

God, Guns & Guts

How this ties into my previous post is that most people who oppose Christianity in America are not haters of true Christianity but of American Civil Religion. Where this is sad for the American Church is that most people cannot tell the difference. They think American Civil Religion (ACR) IS true Christianity.

Part of that confusion is due to the syncretism that spawned ACR. Because some elements of true Christianity are sprinkled throughout ACR, it looks like a twin, but to people who are discerning, the differences are stark.

The funny thing about ACR is that many who embody it are also quick to talk about “another Gospel,” as in this passage:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
—Galatians 1:6-9

Yet which gospel do we Americans actually affirm?

Here are six distinctions between American Civil Religion and true Christianity:

1. Bogeymen

ACR lives and dies by its bogeymen. Someone or something must be opposed and feared. The current president. Illegal aliens. Communism. Tyranny. Standardized testing in schools. Homosexuals. Liberals. Socialists. Blacks. Whites. Jews. Muslims. Middle East dictators. Loss of values. Loss of freedoms. Loss of rights. There is always a threatening bogeyman or two, and this galvanizes those enmeshed in ACR. It’s almost a lifeblood element.

Unlike some of the items on this list, true Christianity does not have an analogous issue. The closest bogeyman the true Christian gets is Satan. Like the decapitated rattlesnake in its death throes that can still bite by reflex, Satan is not safe, but for the true Christian, he is a defeated opponent. And defeated opponents make for lousy bogeymen. The Bible reminds us that our respect and awe are reserved for God alone, and when we abide in Christ, Satan has no power over us. Fearing bogeymen is not a concern for the true Christian. If anything, when ACR’s bogeymen are actual people and groups, the true Christian is called to show love to those bogeymen and pray for them.

2. Fear

Because bogeymen play so well into the ACR narrative, fear must result. Fear is ever-present in the heart of ACR practitioners. They will know they are ACR by their fear.

But true Christians understand that fear and faith don’t mix. The perfect love of God casts out all fear. The true Christian cannot be a slave to fear because he or she abides in Christ. And what can assail Christ? Nothing and no one. They will know they are Christians by their love.

3. Loss

People enmeshed in ACR are obsessed with loss. In America, the ACR narrative forever talks about loss of rights, freedoms, our “Christian heritage,” and so on. Yet above these is the greatest loss of all for ACR proponents: loss of control. Again, this plays into fear.

True Christian faith recognizes that there is nothing to lose because everything has been lost already. “You have died, and your life is now hidden in Christ,” writes the Apostle Paul. “You are not your own; you have been bought with a price,” he adds. Loss means nothing because no one and nothing can take away Jesus. Likewise, the Christian cannot be removed from Him. If anything, loss brings joy in the life of the Christian, because losing the dross of the world means more room to gain Christ.

4. God & ____________

ACR is forever pairing God with something or someone. God & Country. God & Guns. God & Military. God & GOP. We even have a concept in American history that embodies this concept in two words: Manifest Destiny. Want to legitimize any “righteous” cause for the ACR? Pair it with God.

The true Christian avoids creating anything that forces God to share His Glory, because God will not share it, ever. The closest the true Christian gets is to abide in Christ—God & the Church, and even then God remains the sole focus of our worship.

5. Kingdoms

In ACR, it’s America first. Always. When asked their citizenship, ACR believers will respond with “America” and almost never “Heaven.” Still, kingdoms perplex ACR. “King”-anything recalls America’s revolution and smacks of tyranny. That noted, an underlying desire in many ACR proponents is to be a sort of new Kingdom of Israel here in the United States. For this reason, those enmeshed in ACR tend to quote from the Old Testament at the expense of the New in their apologetics. However, while ACR believers will quote Bible verses to support the essentials of their “faith,” those verses often have no structure to undergird the actual Kingdom of God.

In stark contrast, true Christianity recognizes the New Testament’s Kingdom of God as the framework for everything the Christian says and does. Scripture is used in a way that perpetually goes back to this Kingdom and its Now and Not Yet reality. In that reality, Christ is King and Christians are Citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom. America, as a political entity, must always be a distant second in allegiance. The Christian’s ambassadorship is for Christ and His Kingdom alone. (This is a primary area of concern for true Christianity in America because the Church here perpetually struggles with its Kingdom of God narrative, largely due to the nonstop noise coming from ACR.)

6. Self

Self is at the heart of ACR. Our way of living. Our freedoms. Our rights. Our country. Yet even in the midst of all that “our” lies a whole lot of “me.”

Selflessness is at the heart of true Christianity. The Christian esteems others better than himself. She lives for Christ, dies to self, and considers doing so a privilege. The Kingdom of God matters, and the individual Christian within it not so much. Jesus must increase and all who love Him must decrease.

It doesn’t take much effort to see the differences between ACR and true Christianity, yet few of us make the distinction. People who don’t know God can’t make this distinction at all, and this should concern those of us who don’t want to perpetuate ACR. When ACR is mistaken for true Christian faith and practices, everyone loses.

None of this is to say that you and I can’t be Christians and Americans too. Nor does it imply that we can’t be “rah-rah America.” National pride does not negate Christian belief or vice versa. It’s a matter of allegiance. For the Christian, the allegiance is to Christ, and nothing can supercede this. The true Christian’s real citizenship is not in any earthly political entity but in an unseen one in which the Lord rules.

If this post makes you mad, consider that you’re mad because our American Civil Religion is so engrained in everything we say, do, and live in America. Consider that ACR is a false gospel based on fear. Consider its selfishness. Consider that it obfuscates true Christianity. Consider that perhaps it’s what non-Christians hate most of all. Consider that ACR has become your faith and mine instead of true Christianity.

Then, do something about it.

Christians: The Despised of the World


“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”
—Luke 6:22

A boot to the neckEvery day, news stories proliferate of Christian believers being killed, raped, tortured, and persecuted by the people of the world. While there are isolated incidents of the same occurring to people of other beliefs, Christians bear by far the brunt of this hate.

Christians in the United States are disliked primarily because we have strong opinions about cultural issues. But in most other countries, Christians are hated for Jesus’ sake, because they are light amid darkness. People love darkness and hate the light, because it exposes their wickedness. The light doesn’t have to do anything but be the light. By its very nature, it reveals darkness for what it is.

If anyone needs proof of the veracity of the Christian faith, the blood of the martyrs speaks volumes. One can’t look at the number of people who have died with the name of Jesus on their lips and blithely dismiss that faith as fanaticism or wishful thinking. Honest people can’t look at those numbers and wave them off. They have to ask the question: Why are Christians worldwide so despised for their faith?

Christians built the world’s hospitals, schools, and orphanages. Go to the worst places in the world and Christians are toiling there anonymously to make those places something othen than hellholes.

Christians gave the world much of its stunning art and architecture, music and literature. If it’s inspiring and noble, chances are, whatever it might be, it has the touch of the Christian message in it.

In most places around the globe, Christians go quietly about their business, ambassadors of Jesus in a world otherwise filled with sickness and strife.

Yet somehow, the reaction of the people of the world to the above is to hate Christians, often to the point of wishing them dead. And sometimes, the wishing turns real.

If you are not a Christian, ask yourself how it can be that one group of people can inspire such opposition. Don’t shrink away, but ask why. Ask yourself what it is about a couple in Pakistan that is so wrong that a mob would drag them out of their home and set them on fire. Or that Christians would be beheaded for no reason other than believing that Jesus is Lord.

God sent Himself through Jesus to die for our failures, hidden depravity, and rebellion against all that is good and right so that we would not have to die because of them. Instead, He offers us grace and a place in His Kingdom that never ends. We can’t earn that place. He gives it as a free gift when we place our faith in Jesus. Because of this, we can love God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Subsequently, no matter where we go, we are ambassadors for that Kingdom, reconciling people to God, who desires that all come to Him and find rest for their souls.

This message and its realization in the lives of Christians get us hated and killed the world over.

If you are not a Christian, ask yourself what sense that makes, that people would be burned alive or beheaded for such a message. Why does this trouble so many to the point of hatred and violence against Christians?

Does it makes sense to you? Think hard. Ask yourself the tough questions. Go there.

Because this hatred of Christians isn’t going to get better, only worse. If you are not a Christian, you’ll watch this happen. Maybe it will be enough to show you the truth of the Christian message amid the lies of the world.

My prayer is that it will.